Cuts totalling £5.5m aim to balance the city’s books

Library fines will increase as part of the savings drive
Library fines will increase as part of the savings drive
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A NEW wave of £5.5 million of proposed cuts to city council services has been unveiled today.

The target, put to councillors by their officials for 2012/13, is much lower than last year or what was expected, though a bigger funding black hole still has to be closed in the following two years.

City chiefs said next year’s cuts target was down because of an increase in Edinburgh’s allocation from Scottish Government funds, but insiders admitted the May local elections meant there was little appetite for wider cuts.

Proposals include axing the A-to-Z of council services that is sent to every household, increasing fees in residential care homes and raising the price of a range of council services, from road permits and pest control to library fines and crematoriums.

Next year’s planned savings are in addition to the £18.1m of cuts that were approved in February and will come into effect in the next 12 months, including another £1.4m reduction in secondary school management costs, cuts to library opening hours, closing half the city’s public toilets and introducing fortnightly bin collections

Karen Kelly, the city council’s head of financial services, said of the latest cuts: “We are doing it in the context of a local election next year and will set a one-year budget next year.”

Only two months ago, Ms Kelly had warned that £22.5m of cuts would have to be found in 2012/13 as the council continues to face pressure on funding.

But the decision by the Scottish Government to honour an SNP manifesto pledge and ensure that no council’s funding should fall below 85 per cent of the Scottish average per head of population effectively wiped out the gap by handing the city an extra £22m.

Other changes to officials’ financial projections mean that if the council continued to operate exactly as it currently does it would have a £12.3m budget surplus next year. However, officials have recommended the new batch of £5.5m of savings in order to try to make a dent in the £13.3m funding gap projected for 2013/14, which could rise to £42.9m the following year. If today’s recommendations are approved by councillors and other projected savings come into line, Ms Kelly said the total accumulated funding gap would be slashed to just under £30m by 2014/15.

Councillor Phil Wheeler, the city’s finance leader, denied the Lib Dem/SNP administration was leaving future administrations to make the tough decisions. He said: “We are giving them balanced books, and that is a damn sight better than when we came into office.”

Council leader Jenny Dawe said: “Although it might seem strange that we need savings in the current year, it is important that we do continue to make the savings we have been making. We saw them for the first time yesterday and most seem like sensible suggestions.

“We have asked for more information on some of them, as always, but on first glance 90 per cent of the list look like sensible suggestions that will not have an impact on frontline services and in some cases have just ratified things that have already happened, like somebody has taken voluntary retirement and the post has not needed replaced. I think that officers now have a better feel on what is politically OK or not.”

She also confirmed that council tax is now set to be frozen in Edinburgh every year up to 2015, unless any future administration goes against the national deal struck with the Scottish Government.

WHERE THE AXE WILL FALL

The £5.5 million of savings include:

* Introduction of a £10 charge for people who want to apply for a parking dispensation to allow for things such as home removal vans or deliveries

* £10,000 reduction in rates charge for Gracemount Youth and Community Centre, following agreement to lease the building to its management committee

* Three per cent cut to children and families department’s “supplies and services” budget, excluding schools

* Three per cent across-the-board rise in fees and charges within services for communities department, including cemeteries, crematoria and garden aid

* Axing the council’s “A to Z of services” and reducing communications costs by £112,000

* £35,000 cut to funding towards transport partnership Sestran

* £100,000 reduction in payments made to NHS Lothian for them providing beds to vulnerable people in winter weather, in preference to keeping them at home